It’s hard to believe that 2019 is the fifteenth anniversary of the nationally acclaimed, municipally owned, K-12 public charter school, Westlake Academy.
Despite educating only five percent of students in Texas, public charter schools now represent more than a quarter of the schools that received an A grade from the TEA (Texas Education Agency).
In order to fully appreciate Westlake Academy’s academic and extra-curricular excellence, one must understand its pioneering history and how the school paved the way for today’s success.
Fifteen years ago, with the town divided into three school districts, each day students headed in different directions to their various schools. To help foster a stronger sense of community, Westlake leaders developed a plan to begin a public charter school for all the town’s students. In order to make this dream a reality, Westlake had to offer something different from the surrounding districts.
It was former Mayor Scott Bradley, and his wife Kelly Bradley, who first introduced the idea of an International Baccalaureate® (IB) curriculum. It was decided that a K-12 school, providing a rigorous curriculum of higher level academics and critical thinking skills, along with a focus on community service and global perspectives, would set Westlake Academy apart from the surrounding districts.
“It was a bold experiment for a town to own their own school. All of the founders took a huge risk, but it definitely paid off”, says Westlake Academy Executive Director Dr. Mechelle Bryson.
While the IB curriculum was not widely known in the state, slowly school districts began applying to IB to implement their Diploma Programme (for grades 11 and 12). As the rigor and benefits of the curriculum proved itself, the Texas legislature passed a law that all Texas universities must grant a minimum of 24 credit hours to IB graduates. Westlake leaders had the foresight to recognize that the earlier a child began studying the IB curriculum, the stronger their foundation would be.
The first Westlake Academy graduating class in 2010, known as “The Pioneers”, had just 24 students. Now, the 2018-2019 student body has grown to 880 students with a senior class of 66 students.
Scholarship dollars offered to graduates have grown from $2.4 million to over $4.7 million. Graduates have been accepted into colleges and universities from junior colleges to international universities, from top tier schools such as Yale, Stanford, Cornell, Dartmouth, the University of Pennsylvania and several US Military Academies. Currently, 54% of 2010 alumni and 31% of 2011 alumni are enrolled in graduate school or have completed various graduate degrees with other cohorts’ trajectories indicating they too, will meet or exceed these numbers.
Number One District
Westlake Academy is known for its high marks in education, but none are more significant than its latest distinction. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released results of campus and district ratings of all public schools and Westlake Academy received the highest marks in the state.
Westlake Academy is the only district in all of Texas to receive a score of 98. Westlake excelled in three major categories: student achievement, school progress and “closing the gap”, which reflects how well different populations of students in a district are performing.
Westlake Academy earned a “Met Standard” rating, the highest rating available. TEA Commissioner of Education Mike Morath praised Westlake Academy's commitment to excellence.
“The outstanding work of dedicated educators in these single-campus districts is worthy of both our attention and praise.” Morath went on to say the performance in these districts reflects a commitment to educating all students and preparing them for future success.
A sentiment echoed by Westlake Academy Executive Director, Dr. Mechelle Bryson. “There is no doubt that the dedication and commitment that our teachers have to the greater good of our organization is directly attributable to this noteworthy accomplishment. It is also a direct reflection of the power of an IB world education. This is what sets us apart from our contemporaries and makes all the difference”, says Bryson.
The top 10% of the year’s Westlake Academy graduating class was recognized during a special ceremony surrounded by friends and family. The second annual Golden Tassel Banquet was held in April where each student was presented with a golden tassel and a special plaque, signifying their top 10% status.
The golden tassel reflects the students’ academic perseverance, work ethic, and dedication. Additionally, each honoree delivered a speech and recognized their “Teacher of Impact”, a Westlake Academy educator that had a positive influence in their lives both academically and personally.
Westlake residents Sahejbir Bhatia, Samuel Jung, and Connor Kraska, along with classmates Hunter Barnard, Macy Orman, and Alisha Somani were the six students honored for this incredible achievement. Some of the schools they were accepted to include Princeton, Yale, Brown, NYU, Northwestern, University of Virginia, USC, UT Austin, and the University of North Carolina, among others.
This will be the tenth graduating class at Westlake Academy, making the evening, and this group of graduates, even more special. “It is on occasions such as these that I am reminded of these words by Aristotle, ‘We are what we repeatedly do; therefore, excellence is not an accident; it is a habit’. Westlake’s students who have achieved the top ten percent exemplify Aristotle’s words. It is such a pleasure to honor each of them”, says Westlake Academy Executive Director Dr. Mechelle Bryson.
Westlake Academy students not only excel in academics, they have achieved the highest recognition in extra-curricular sports as well.
This year, the varsity girls’ volleyball squad took home both the district and state titles. That’s five in a row for the program. Senior Macy Orman was named most outstanding player. The junior varsity girls’ volleyball team won the regional title, while the junior high girls also won a regional title of their own.
From the court to the field, the varsity co-ed soccer team won the state title. That’s the second in a row and fifth in the last nine seasons. Junior George Lofrisco was named most valuable player. In cross country, the boys won the state championship making it four titles in a row. Junior Cooper Cawthra was named state champion runner.
The girl’s cross-country team was runner-up for state closing out a tremendous season.
For the first time in school history, Westlake Academy’s football team made it to the state finals before falling short in the championship game.
Westlake Academy Athletic Director, Alan Burt had glowing praise for all of their hard-working students. “We’re very pleased at the program’s overall success. To have three state championships out of four varsity teams is quite amazing. It’s a tribute to the dedication of our athletes and the quality of coaching that they’ve received. We appreciate all the support from the families and fans who come out to cheer on these kids.”
National Merit and AP Honors
Several students have gained nationwide recognition through receiving National Merit and Advanced Placement (AP) Honors. This year, a record number of forty-three students have been recognized as AP Scholars which includes fifteen traditional scholars, twenty-two scholars with distinction and six scholars with honors.
Congratulations to all forty-three of Westlake’s AP Scholars including Westlake resident AP Scholars: Samuel Beauchamp, Grant Gibbs, and Allie Woo. Congratulations to Westlake’s resident AP Scholars with Honor: Avi Gupta and Story Kimura. And congratulations to Westlake’s resident AP Scholars with Distinction: Luke Albritton, Sahejbir Bhatia, Omar Bukhari, Samuel Jung, Connor Kraska, and Stratford Small.
Westlake Academy is also home to two National Merit Semi-finalists, Trevor Adkins and Resident Samuel Jung. Six students were recognized as National Merit Commended Scholars: Alisha Somani, Nick Bellinger, Resident Sahejbir Bhatia, Sophia Carino, Resident Connor Kraska, and Anishka Peter. One student, Nick Robinson, is honored as a National Hispanic Scholar.
Westlake resident and senior Samuel Jung was recognized twice at the meeting for being both an AP Scholar with distinction and a National Semi-Merit Finalist. “The IB teaching really fits in well with the AP teaching, we just gear towards the AP style of answering the questions because we’re already aware of the content.”
Senior Connor Kraska, also a Westlake resident, was honored as a National Merit Commended Scholar as well as an AP scholar with distinction. “With the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, it’s a balancing act to juggle the AP courses with the IB Diploma Programme courses. It’s a lot to handle but the teachers at Westlake Academy have prepared us really well to handle the large course loads.”
It’s clear to see why Westlake Academy has become so successful. Its solid academic foundation, cutting-edge innovation and pursuit of excellence in a small town environment is a breath of fresh air.
The shining school on the hill in Westlake is leaving a legacy of leading and learning. It brings to mind a fitting quote by Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”